One of the dilemmas voiced by anti-corruption agencies at the UNODC-CommGAP organized learning event on the role of communication in anti-corruption efforts last November was the challenge of working with the media. On the one hand, anti-corruption agencies understood the importance of media relations. On the other, many of them had had unpleasant experiences with journalists, leaving them frustrated and suspicious of the media profession as a whole.
Bureaucracies are inherently secretive. German sociologist Max Weber said that in the 1920s, long before the advent of television news conferences and the internet, in a time when journalism wasn't actually meant to be investigative. That is true for autocracies, but don't think democratic governments are immune to the secrecy bug. United States government agencies increased the use of privacy exemptions to deny federal Freedom of Information Act requests by more than 600 % between 1998 and 2002, according to a study by Jennifer LaFleur.
Last month, US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer spoke in an engaging panel discussion on the role of art and architecture in civic spheres at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He talked about the design of Boston’s federal courthouse: an effort that strove to create a building that was accessible and inviting to the people, so that they would recognize it as a public space—their space—and use it.
While there may be multiple entry points to doing development work, they should all lead to the same obvious place. That is, of course, reducing poverty and suffering in the world. For people in development and related fields, working toward these lofty goals requires the tenacity toward achieving results, willingness to be monitored and evaluated, and commitment to continuously enhance one’s technical competence and personal effectiveness.
CommGAP recently met with representatives of the African Community of Practice on Managing for Development Results (AfCoP-MfDR). On its website, AfCoP describes itself as a virtual community that “promotes learning and knowledge exchange among public managers, organizations, executing agencies and practitioners on how to manage better for Development Results.” The community has over 500 members from over 32 African countries, working in government, civil society, and the results practice areas. Online discussions revolve around five substantive areas of managing for results: leadership; M&E; accountability and partnerships; planning and budgeting; and statistical capacity.
"When corruption is king, there is no accountability of leadership and no trust in authority. Society devolves to the basic units of family and self, to the basic instincts of getting what you can when you can, because you don’t believe anything better will ever come along. And when the only horizon is tomorrow, how can you care about the kind of nation you are building for your children and your grandchildren? How can you call on your government to address what ails society and build stronger institutions? "
Visiting Fellow at St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford; Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development; and former Executive Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of Nigeria.
I am asked by the CommGAP team if I would be willing to post a note on the occasion of Jürgen Habermas's 80th birthday. I am grateful for being asked, and especially pleased at the moment of reflection on a remarkable life that this requires.
Of course, his work on the relationship between communication and democratization is widely celebrated. Somewhat ruefully for some of us, since it always seems that one has just finished struggling through an engagement with his latest work when he produces yet another, often in a different field of scholarship: first the public sphere, then reason, then ethics, then law, and most recently religion. But, not to complain. These efforts are all connected together in a system of thought that has the subject of deliberative democracy at its core.
The on-going controversy around the presidential election result in Iran raises an important curiosity. It is clear at the present moment that the official results have defied expectations and dashed hopes for many. From the standpoint of political accountability, there are at least two important questions that arise. First, where do these expectations and hopes come from? Perceptions that the election was "stolen" must be based in some sense of a range of plausible outcomes, and the declared 63% to 34% split clearly fell out of this range for Moussavi supporters and comfortably within this range for Ahmadinejad supporters. The problem of conflicting pre-election expectations is an old one, rooted in what social scientists often call "homophily." Where we stand is often determined by where we sit, and we tend to sit in deeply embedded and entrenched social information networks amongst others who are very much like us in body, mind, and spirit. Those in the Ahmadinejad camp most likely set their expectations in the company of other Ahmadinejad supporters and those in the Moussavi camp most likely set their expectations in the company of fellows who championed Moussavi's cause.
Again, Uruguay shows that when civil society intelligently promotes coalition-building and finds sympathetic allies in government, media reform is possible. On June 10, the Congress passed a bill to reform the Penal Code and the Press Law. The new law will abolish libel laws and subject national legislation on communication issues to criteria enforced by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The bill is likely to be approved by the Executive.
This achievement is another landmark of recent efforts towards media democracy in Uruguay. During the past two years, legislation on community broadcasting, access to public information, and national archiving of information was approved. The passing of community broadcasting law in December 2007 represented a major success. The law assigns one-third of radio frequencies to community, non-profit stations. It defines community stations in terms of the nature of their goals (“social mission”) and ownership (“collective properties”) rather in terms of reach or geographical location. It stipulates the existence of the Consejo Honorario Asesor de Radiodifusión Comunitaria, a multi-sectoral committee with significant representation from civil society that oversees the bidding process and monitors the performance of stations to ensure that they meet social goals. The passing of the “freedom of information” law in October 2008, and the elimination of libel and contempt laws are other positive advances. This is encouraging if we consider that, like in the rest of the region, the dominant media system historically conformed with the norm of media policies in Latin America: state patrimonialism and collusion between governments and large business.
"Democratic procedures and public service media are... important correctives to the mistaken trust in the therapeutic powers of unbridled technical expertise... The belief in technocratic solutions... does not properly acknowledge that the language games used to define and portray risk frame the policy process, and in turn govern the attempted regulation of risk. The belief in technocratic solutions is also dangerous insofar as it can bolster the temptations to deal with... risks through dirigiste policies or by resorting to states of emergency and crackdowns on the media. Democracy and public service media are unrivalled remedies for technocratic delusions of this kind. They raise the level and quality of 'risk communication' by guaranteeing the open flow of opinions, risk evaluations and controversies back and forth among individual citizens, academic experts, administrators, interest groups and social movements. Democratic procedures combined with public service media can open up and render accountable the process in which citizens, experts, and policymakers comprehend, estimate, evaluate and deal with the probabilities and consequences of risks."
Photo credit: www.johnkeane.net
London’s Big Issue often features interviews with famous movie stars like Kate Winslet while the latest Big Issue South Africa features a review of a recently released local movie about 1950s apartheid.
Bogota has La Calle, Manila has The Jeepney magazine, and Washington, DC has Street Sense. Similar publications are found all over the world and have one thing in common. They are all written by people who are either homeless or living in vulnerable, temporary housing.
Many of these publications are part of The International Network of Street papers (INSP), a network of 101 street papers in 37 countries on 6 continents. The readership of these papers is at an astounding 30 million globally.
It is uncontroversial that the resources governments spend belong to the people. How these resources get allocated varies from country to country at the national and local levels. Debates and deliberations surrounding the budgetary process are usually technical, tedious, and time-consuming. Nonetheless, budgeting in the public sector is a critical entry point for the demand for better public goods and services and, more broadly, meaningful and effective citizen engagement. If citizens could exercise their voices in the prioritization of public sector spending, then government programs would have a higher likelihood of reflecting the needs and wants of constituents. So a key challenge and opportunity in this area is finding a judicious balance between solid technical analysis and meaningful citizen participation.
The current, mainstream approach to anti-corruption work by the international community involves establishing a normative framework (such as the comprehensive United Nations Convention against Corruption) that details a set of recommended standards for countries to meet, requesting that countries ratify the framework, and assisting them in achieving these standards. The framework lists specific measures designed to help countries prevent and control corruption, such as the establishment of independent anti-corruption commissions, creation of transparent procurement and public financial management systems, and promotion of codes of conduct for public officials rooted in ethics and integrity, to name a few.
Last week and this, the Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA) piloted the new World Bank Institute's (WBI) new Core Learning Program "Introduction to Social Accountability" near Johannesburg, South Africa. CommGAP was invited to present a module on "Communication and Strategies for Constructive Engagement" - introducing our core concepts and messages on mobilizing public opinion to create genuine demand for social accountability. Here's a comment from the evaluations of our module: "The mobilization of public opinion is vital for social accountability. I have to admit that I was not aware of the importance of public opinion for social accountability before this course!"
I have just read a fascinating paper published by the Institute of Development Studies in the UK and written by Naomi Hossain. It is titled 'Rude Accountability in the Unreformed State: Informal Pressures on Frontline Bureaucrats in Bangladesh' [IDS Working Paper Volume 2009 Number 319]. The paper describes and analyzes what happens when poor peasants in Bangladesh are being poorly served by frontline service providers like doctors and teachers in an environment where the institutional accountability mechanisms do not work. So, what do these poor peasants do? They get angry and they show it. They speak rudely to these doctors and teachers who normally expect deference. They embarrass them. They get local newspapers to name and shame them.They even engage in acts of violence like vandalism. And their reactions often produces results, particularly the media reports. This is what Hossain calls 'rude accountability'.
In India’s 2 million villages, public meetings at the village level called Gram Sabhas (GSs) have provided a structured, institutionalized space for dialogue between the local government and its citizens. In a recently released paper on the topic, Vijayendra Rao and Paromita Sanyal have coined these GSs as “state-sponsored” public sphere. In fact, these meetings are mandated by national legislation.
In India, these public meetings not only offer a space to dialogue and feedback between citizens and local power holders, they also pair it with real decision-making on how to manage local resources for beneficiaries for public programs. This is the most striking feature of the GSs. While the government provides data on families living below the poverty line that could be eligible for local resources, the GSs are required to have these lists ratified by those attending the meeting. Citizens can directly challenge the data in “a forum where public discourse shapes the meaning of poverty, discrimination and affirmative action.”
"The real thing to worry about is secret government – the constant accumulation of power. It’s actually a conservative notion that accumulations of power aren’t good . . . There’s a whole apparatus set up in government institutions to keep people from finding out what’s really going on. “
- Bob Woodward – Financial Times, June 5, 2009. Lunch with the FT: Bob Woodward, by Edward Luce
More than a decade has passed since Indonesia embarked on the transition from authoritarian rule to building democratic institutions. This week, CommGAP met with Santoso, Managing Director of KBR68H, a Jakarta-based radio news agency founded in 1999, at the dawn of the country’s democratic transition. In addition to its long roster of domestic and international awards, KBR68H is the first media and Southeast Asian organization to receive the King Baudouin International Development Prize, named after the former king of Belgium (click here for a video on KBR68H prepared by the prize sponsor).
Is it true that the news media - when free, plural and independent - promote effective, responsive and accountable governance? Working with Professor Pippa Norris of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, CommGAP has produced a major study making the case for Yes as rigorously as we can. That study is now being prepared for the printers, and should be available soon. Yet there are times when I think; why do we need to go to great lengths to make what should be an obvious point?
I returned from my two weeks of traveling with a more optimist outlook about Communication for Development -C4D- and the way it is being considered and applied around the world. I went first to Lisbon, Portugal, where I was invited to be a guest speaker in a week-long workshop on communication for social change sponsored by the Objectivo 2015 - UN Millennium Campaign in Portugal and hosted by the Lisbon's School of Communication and Media Studies. The course was directed at Civil Society Organizations managers and program officers. It has been very encouraging to see not only the high level of interest of participants, but also to realize that C4D principles and concepts can be and are applied effectively in the context of more developed countries.